Tantra: Ngondro, Empowerments, and Ritual Practice

We have been speaking about the necessity for preparation for engaging in tantra practice. We have the common preliminaries (or preparation) which are shared in common with all Mahayana practices, sutra as well as tantra. In addition, we have the unshared or uncommon preliminaries or preparation, and this is what is often known in the West by the Tibetan name for it, ngondro (sngon-’gro). I don’t know how many of you are involved with ngondro or have heard about ngondro. This is something that is a relevant topic, and this also is something that is really quite important to take seriously.

The Two Enlightenment-Building Networks

In order to be able to make progress on the path, we need a lot of energy and we need to strengthen our energy and our understanding. Now one way is through gaining inspiration from spiritual a teacher. That’s one aspect. But another aspect is strengthening our energy internally, and here we need to speak about what is often translated as the two collections. I prefer two networks rather than collections. These are often called the collection of merit and the collection of wisdom (or insight). Merit, again, sounds as though it’s points, and collection – you collect enough points, a hundred points, and then you win something. It is not like that at all.

What’s usually translated as merit actually means a positive force, positive potential, and this is something that we can build up more and more and more of, from acting in constructive ways. It could be a positive force that is built up with confusion about reality, and this would just result in improving our samsaric situation, but certainly not helping us to get out of samsara. But we have to qualify that; it means not helping us directly to get out of samsara, but indirectly. Because the more positive force we build up, even within a samsaric situation, the more conducive a situation we’ll be in to be able to build up positive force that’s not mixed with confusion. So we certainly work on building up positive force while we still are very samsaric beings.

Now the various pieces of positive force – piece isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean – the various positive forces that we build up network with each other and work with each other to become stronger and stronger and stronger. And it’s like, a little bit, when we think in terms of physics: If you have ice and you put in enough energy into the system, then eventually it will reach a point in which the whole system rearranges itself and it turns into water. And you put more and more energy into it and then, when a certain amount of energy is there, again you will get another transformation – into steam. And so, similarly, when we think in terms of our own system, our own organic system, then if we put in enough positive force – and not the positive force that is just to perpetuate samsara – then, likewise, we can make a transition: Instead of being an ordinary being with conceptual understanding, we’ll be able to gain nonconceptual understanding. We’ll be able to gain liberation. We’ll be able to make these big transitions. So we need to put a lot of positive force into the system. So that’s one network that we build up.

The other network is the network of deep awareness, I call it (rather than just wisdom; wisdom is too vague a word). This is our awareness of voidness – our awareness of how things exist and how they don’t exist, and eliminating, from our way of understanding, these false views. The more deep awareness that we gain, again and again, the more we build that up, it networks with each other, and again we can make the transition to a new level of understanding and awareness.

So this is one process that is very necessary to make progress on the path: to build up positive force and deep awareness, these networks. The other aspect is to cleanse away, to eliminate, the negative force that we have, the negative potentials and the misunderstanding that we have. This we do with gaining correct understanding, and all sorts of purification practices. So, if this is necessary for just our general practice, then it’s even more necessary for our tantra practice. This is really what is involved with our ngondro practice.

Ngondro practice is intended to build up a big amount of this positive force and purify or cleanse away a big amount of this negative force, so that we can have a better chance of some success in our practice. Obviously, it doesn’t build up all the positive force, and obviously it doesn’t get rid of all the negative force or negative potential. But we need a good boost. It’s like if you’re going to make a journey in your car, you need to fill the tank with oil before you set out. And so, likewise, we have to fill our tank with the ngondro practice.

Types of Ngondro Practice

There are many different types of ngondro practices, these preliminary or preparatory practices. There are standard ones of prostration while taking refuge and developing bodhichitta, there is Vajrasattva purification, there’s mandala offering, there’s guru-yoga. Those are fairly common ngondro practices, but there are many other ngondro practices as well; we shouldn’t just think that there are these four. Normally what we try to do is a hundred thousand repetitions of each of these practices. Doing prostration and Vajrasattva purification with the hundred-syllable mantra are both intended for purification, for eliminating or cleansing away negative force, negative potential. While mandala offering and guru-yoga are intended to build up positive force. Like that.

You’ve probably had a lot of teachings on ngondro. There’s not a great need to go into a lot of detail about them. But what is relevant is to realize that the number a hundred thousand is no magical number; it just means a lot. Now we can count, and counting up to a hundred thousand of a certain practice – repetition – can be helpful for people who have low self-confidence. If you think of people in traditional Asia who might not have had a great deal of not only education but experience – in terms of accomplishing big things in their life – they might be lacking in confidence that they can do something really difficult, like achieving enlightenment (obviously that’s the most difficult thing to do). So one way of building up a little bit of self-confidence is doing a hundred thousand of something.

Do a hundred thousand then – in the beginning, before you do it – you think “Oh, my goodness. This is so many. I’ll never be able to do a hundred thousand.” But actually a hundred thousand is not that many. For instance, if you do the hundred-syllable mantra of Vajrasattva: if you do three hundred a day, you finish in a year; and so it is not such an unattainable number, a hundred thousand. But, when you do a hundred thousand of something, then you get a little bit of feeling of confidence, that “Yes, I can do difficult practices. I can do something that in the beginning seemed impossible.” Obviously, you can also get pride and arrogance from this, which is not helpful at all. “I’m so wonderful. I did a hundred thousand. How many did you do?” – we look down on the other person. That’s not what this is intended for. So, if we lack self-confidence, then doing a hundred thousand and counting can be quite helpful. But don’t expect that if you do one less, that it’s not going to work, and as soon as you do the hundred thousand then, all of a sudden, the water boils and we have changed to a new state of purity. That’s not the case. Obviously, for these practices to be very effective they have to be done perfectly, which means with perfect concentration, and perfect motivation, and all of that, and correct understanding, which is quite unlikely that we will do. However – even if we don’t do them perfectly – nevertheless, they do have a beneficial effect. If we’re the type of a person who is a bit materialistic about our Dharma practice and we get too caught up in the numbers, then counting is not very helpful; it just makes us more materialistic about our Dharma practice.

So the idea is that we have to do a lot of these practices. A lot. And, after we’ve done a hundred thousand, that doesn’t mean that we no longer need to do these practices. In any of the long sadhanas there is prostration, there is refuge, there is generating bodhichitta, there is Vajrasattva, there is mandala offering, and there is guru-yoga. They’re all there. They’re always there. And so we have to continue to build up this positive force and cleanse negative force throughout the major part of our path till we get some stable level of realization.

These are our preliminary practices. Think about that for a moment.


Again, I would emphasize that the ngondro practice is not an exercise in visualization. That’s a big mistake when doing the ngondro practice, to think that the whole point of it is to be able to get the perfect visualization of the tree of gurus, or whatever visualization is involved in the practice. That’s not the point. Again, the point is the state of mind that we create. In terms of, when you do prostration, thinking in terms of the qualities of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – it’s represented by the figures in the visualization – and going in that direction, putting that direction in our life, and using that as a way to develop bodhichitta, to aim for our future enlightenment.

With Vajrasattva, it’s very important that we openly admit the negative things we did in the past, that these were mistaken, that we regret them. It’s not that we feel guilt about them, but I really wish I hadn’t acted that way, and I’m going to try not to repeat these negative actions. I reaffirm the positive direction that I’m going in my life with refuge and bodhichitta, and I’m going to counteract the negative things with positive things, like this meditation. Then, with the visualization, imagine that the negative forces leave us in some sort of graphic form. The jewelry of Vajrasattva is irrelevant here.

It’s the same thing with mandala offering. It’s the willingness to give everything – the whole universe, everything – in order to be able to benefit others. So we give of ourselves, and of every possible thing that is imaginable, to other beings for their benefit and to our achievement of enlightenment. So it helps us to put our full energy, our full force into the practice.

Then, with the guru-yoga, the point is to think of the qualities of the spiritual teacher, particularly their physical qualities – their energy, what they do, speech, mind, heart – and to understand that this comes from their Buddha-nature. We have Buddha-nature; we’re capable of the same thing. Then we gain inspiration by actually imagining that these lights of inspiration come and strengthen and uplift these qualities of our own Buddha-nature.

These are the important things. The actual details of the visualization are not so important. If you have good visualization, wonderful. If not, it doesn’t matter. Because, when you become too preoccupied with the visualization for this stage of practice, the ngondro, you lose the whole point of the practice and you get very frustrated. And it’s hardly likely that at a beginning stage we’re going to be able to do these complex visualizations anyway, so don’t worry about it.

The way in which we do these preliminaries or preparatory practices of ngondro can be all together as an event, one after the other, that we do before taking initiation, for example, if you want to do it in the real classical way, like Milarepa had to do. Or we can… It sometimes happens initiations are given, but then afterwards we’d better do our preliminaries, the ngondro. The initiation, in a sense, is just planting seeds as the Tibetans would say, and probably later on we have to take them again, once we’ve built up sufficient positive force to be able to actually do something with the practice on a practical level. Also, there are other styles of doing the ngondro, in which we do just a little bit every day or we do them when they fit into our schedule.

So there are many ways of doing the ngondro – there’s not just one standard way – and we need to work out which would be the best way of doing that for us. We can do this in consultation with the spiritual teacher if we have that close relation with the teacher. But, when consulting a teacher, we always need to explain what our personal situation is. Don’t just think the teacher is omniscient. “They know everything. They’re a Buddha. So I don’t have to tell them anything about myself.” That’s not really fair, nor is it realistic to the teacher. So explain our situation. Maybe we have small children, maybe we have a very busy job, maybe we’re unemployed and have no job and have a lot of time. Everybody has a different situation, and the way in which we do these preliminaries, the ngondro, needs to fit into our lives in a practical way. In any case, the ngondro is not something that we just skip. And if we are doing these practices, these spiritual practices, and we’re getting nowhere with them, a good piece of advice is to pay attention to our preparation – do we really have the background, both in the common preliminaries as well as in ngondro practice? Probably we need to go and pay attention to that aspect of the practice much more seriously before we’re ever going to get further with the sadhanas and these ritual practices. So, again, consider that for a moment.

Receiving an Empowerment

Then we need to receive an empowerment or initiation (so just two ways of translating the same word; the Tibetan word dbang has the connotation of empower). What the empowerment or initiation is doing is basically – to put it in just a few words – is a procedure for activating our Buddha-nature potentials. We have built up a lot of positive force beforehand with the ngondro practice, and now these seeds need to grow, they need to be activated. For this we need the close relation with a spiritual teacher. The spiritual teacher is very necessary, because it’s through the inspiration of the teacher, plus the actual visualization practices – and, again, it’s not so much the details of the visualization, but just to imagine that something is happening and have some idea of what might be happening – and to have an understanding at least of Buddha-nature and that here is a process for activating it – you know, something going on in our understanding – plus the ritual of what the teacher is doing, plus our own confidence in the teacher, and the whole ambiance of the empowerment – all of that together will activate these potentials of Buddha-nature that we have. We will activate the seeds that are there, they say, and plant more seeds, so that they will grow more and more, in terms of our attainments and realizations.

Any tantric initiation or empowerment involves vows. Vows mean that we are making a commitment; it is serious. We’re not just doing it nonchalantly, like that – like walking into a movie and, if you don’t like it, you walk out. We can of course go to an initiation as an observer and just watch what’s going on, and obviously we don’t receive the empowerment. Just being there doesn’t mean that we receive the initiation. A dog could be there; it doesn’t receive the initiation. There could be a fly on the wall; it doesn’t receive the initiation. So we can be there like a dog or a fly, if we like, at least with an open mind, not hostile. And this is fine. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that one can come to these initiations as an observer, a neutral observer. Fine.

We can go for the blessings, some people say. Blessings mean a little bit of inspiration from what’s going on – remember, blessing is a way of translating the word byin-gyis rlabs that I translate as inspiration – and we can get some inspiration from it, that’s fine, without making any commitment. That’s okay too. But that’s not receiving the initiation; it’s not receiving empowerment.

So one has to be quite clear. When we go to one of these initiations what level am I going as? Am I going as an observer? Am I going for the inspiration and uplifting, the blessings? We can go just to renew our vows but without actually taking the full initiation, because you take vows at an initiation. So, if our vows have been weakened, our bodhisattva vows or tantric vows, we can take them again at an initiation, but without actually going through all the procedures of the initiation. That’s fine also.

But if we’re taking the initiation in order to do the actual practice, which means the full initiation, then absolutely you have to take the vows and commit yourself to the practice (on some level). That level usually is given by the teacher. Sometimes in the West the teacher won’t actually say what that is, because they know that the people won’t actually follow it. And so, in that case, the teacher is basically thinking just in terms of giving the initiation as a so-called blessing. But what is important is to not treat this like going to an Indian bazaar and bargaining with the teacher, trying to get the initiation cheap, without having to do so much practice.

This varies very much with different teachers and different students. But taking initiation is quite a serious thing if we take it actually properly and fully.

Taking Vows

And it requires taking bodhisattva vows. There’s always bodhisattva vows. And, with the two higher classes of tantra, yoga tantra and anuttarayoga tantra, there’s taking of the tantric vows; you don’t have the tantric vows with the first two classes of tantra. These are things that one can study. There are plenty of books on them. I have a lot of material on that on my website. So one can learn about them. And also there has to be some basic level of, at least, lay vows – at least taking refuge, this type of thing – as a basis for these other vows. If we have lay vows in addition, it doesn’t have to be all five, but at least some – not killing, not stealing, not lying, not indulging in inappropriate sexual behavior, and not taking intoxicants. If we have all five, of course, it’s best, but at least some of them. That forms an ethical basis.

What Is Our Motivation for Receiving an Empowerment?

So these things are very important in getting started on the tantric path – preliminaries, empowerment, relation with the teacher, the taking of vows and the keeping the vows, and committing ourselves to actually doing a practice. Okay? In addition, one has to be very, very careful in terms of which initiations we take and from whom we take them. One of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, used to say (Serkong Rinpoche as well) that we shouldn’t be like a hungry dog – that you throw a bone, and the dog will grab just anything. See do we have some connection with this teacher. Who is this teacher who’s giving the initiation? Are they qualified? Are they not qualified? Check them out.

You don’t just go to an initiation from somebody that you’ve never even heard of and you know nothing about, unless you’re just going as an observer. But, when you receive an initiation from a teacher and do it properly, that establishes quite a close connection with that teacher. So we need to be pretty sure that this is the right teacher for me and that we find this person inspiring, because this is one of the main functions of the gurus, to inspire us. And also that this is a practice that I want to do. There are many, many initiations. Just to collect them so that “I have more initiations than you have!” is silly; that’s a child’s game. We go to an initiation because this is a practice that I want to do, so we have to find out something about it beforehand. Many people go just because everybody else is going, and they would feel a little bit uncomfortable that “If everybody else is going, why aren’t I going?” But we shouldn’t (or at least we should try not to) come under these social pressures. It’s not a game. So think about that for a moment.

The Difference between Being a Dharma Practitioner and a Performer of Rituals

I think there’s a big difference between being a performer of rituals and a Dharma practitioner. Sometimes I think people think that the two are equivalent. I really don’t think that they are. You could be both, but they’re not equivalent to each other. In Tibet there are, first of all, very few lay persons who actually get Dharma instruction. Traditionally, if you wanted to get Dharma instruction, you became a monk or a nun. You joined a monastery. And in the monasteries they maintained the rituals, and that’s one of the things that monasteries did as part of the service to the community, in a sense. You perform various rituals for the benefit of the community, and people made offerings of tea and tsampa. And, in order to get food, you went to the rituals, to the pujas every day. That’s where you got your tea, your free tea, and your free tsampa to eat. And everybody had to memorize these rituals. That was part of the whole social structure, and very good. Now, within that structure, you could study more deeply. Not everybody did – it depends on the monastery, it depends on the individual – but you could. But your primary role in many monasteries – not so much the very main, major monasteries, but the little ones – was to perform these rituals.

And so, when various Tibetan lamas come to the West, very often this model from their monasteries is the only model that they’re familiar with, in terms of how do you present the Dharma to others. And so, initially, some of these lamas might give these initiations to people who have hardly any background – maybe they just give a few lectures about the background – but then they give these initiations. And they have you do these rituals as if you were at a small monastery in Tibet. And the people keep up these rituals, doing them in traditional Tibetan style and Tibetan language. (Mind you, the Tibetans didn’t do them in Sanskrit; they did it in Tibetan. But here we’re doing them, in the West, very often in Tibetan.) So it’s basically following the same model as in Tibet for these small monasteries. Then, if we want to go further, we need to study and learn and actually become a Dharma practitioner, someone who is training the mind, not just doing a ritual with the mouth, and with the hands ringing the bell and the drum, and these sorts of things.

I think that we need to understand what’s going on here when we are presented with these rituals so early in our Buddhist practice, and why, in a sense, we’re doing these things and to go further than just being a performer of rituals. Gain the background, so that we use the rituals as a structure for actually transforming our minds, and working on overcoming our own problems and our own difficulties, and getting out of samsara. Just doing a ritual by itself is not going to do that. It will maintain the lineage, in a sense, of a tradition; it maintains a tradition. And, in Tibet, various households would ask you to come to their household and perform a ritual for them, for one purpose or another, but that’s hardly going to happen here in the West.

Another point is that the Tibetans all think in terms of future lives. This is something that is not even questioned; their future lives. And very often lamas will give various initiations and so on, not with the expectation that anybody really is going to do the practice, but that it’s important to plant seeds for future lives. Tibetans often go to teachings and initiations with that mentality. They don’t really intend to do any practice, and they don’t understand anything that’s going on anyway. So they sit there, and you’ll see them having a picnic with their children and, in a sense, just being there. But they think in terms of planting seeds for future lives.

And so, again, various lamas will come to the West and, with a very pure motivation, will give these initiations to plant seeds in our mental continuums for future lives, which very few Western people would really take seriously. That’s another reason why they may give these initiations so early to people who are so new into the Dharma practice. But if we have an understanding of what is the purpose of Dharma – it’s not just to become a performer of rituals, but it’s to actually transform our minds so that we not only gain liberation and enlightenment but we’re able to help others do that – then we can work within the structure that we’re presented with by the lamas. Okay, they come, they give these initiations, they ask us to do these rituals – fine. But don’t stop there, unless you just like doing rituals and like singing, but go further. And to go further requires understanding what we’re doing. What’s the whole purpose of the path? What is enlightenment? What is tantra? How does it work? Have some confidence in the method.

So let’s think of this for just a moment.


Advice for Non-Tibetans

One question regarding the so-called performance of these different practices. When we try to do these ritual practices, there are so many things to do that it’s difficult to keep everything in mind. We have difficulty pronouncing the Tibetan (if we’re doing it in Tibetan), let alone to remember the meaning of what we’re reciting. And there’s all the visualization, plus we’re supposed to be doing the various mudras, and ringing the bell and ringing the drum, and all of that, and it’s too much. So, what can we do in that type of situation? Are there certain things that we can leave out?

Well, first of all, I’m not in a position to give permission to anybody to do things in one way or another. So please don’t look at me in that way. And, again, it depends very much on the teacher, of what type of relation you have with the teacher who actually instructed you to do these practices, and so on, and if there’s somebody who’s actually here with you all the time – what they prefer.

I think there’s a difference between when we do these rituals together in a group… which, as I said, the model that the Tibetans are working on is doing it in their little monastery in which they are responsible for upholding all the rituals with their particular details, because various lay people will come, they want to see that they’re doing them, and they give offerings. So it’s part of a whole social system, which is not the case here in the West. So, in many ways, that’s a bit irrelevant, but it is what the Tibetans are familiar with, especially those who have not lived in the West very long. So it’s only natural that they do what they’re familiar with.

For individual practice, personally I follow what His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommends, which is, first of all, do things in your own language so that you understand what you’re doing, unless you know Tibetan perfectly. But, even if you know Tibetan perfectly, I tell you… I mean, I studied Tibetan for a long time. Next year it’ll be forty years that I’ve been studying Tibetan language. And for many, many, many, many years I did all my practices in Tibetan, but a few years ago I went back to doing them in English. The reason for that was because when you’re familiar with these texts you do them very quickly. If you do them very quickly in another language, no matter how well you know that other language, the meaning is not so strong in your mind. Whereas if you’re going to do it quickly in your own language, it’s much easier to have the meaning and have some feeling there. So I went back to doing it in English, which I find much better actually.

The main reason for doing things in Tibetan – and, as I said, Tibetans don’t do it in Sanskrit, so they do it in their own language – but the main reason why people like Kalu Rinpoche – he was one of the first lamas teaching very widely in the West, and really insisting that everybody do their practices in Tibetan – was that everybody, no matter what country they come from, could all do the same practice together in the same room. And you could do it in a Tibetan monastery with Tibetans as well; you could join in. So it was for a sense of unity and harmony, which of course is a benefit. If everybody’s doing it in their own language, you can’t practice together with people from another country, unless you do it just in your head. But, I think, for understanding, it’s much better to do in your own language, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama recommends that as well.

As for the drums, and the bells, and all of this. If you can do it and it’s not distracting, fine. If it’s distracting and it starts to become a game – and you’re just playing, like a little child – better to forget it. Sure, in tantra practice we are trying to coordinate body, speech, and mind. We want to achieve a body, speech, and mind of a Buddha, in which all of these three are working together in harmony. So, while our mouth is saying the mantra and reciting the words, our body is doing the mudras and the various musical things, and so on, and our minds are doing the visualizations and the understanding. Well, that’s not so easy, is it? And if we have to just train one at a time – well, better to transform your mind.

We don’t practice the way the Tibetans do. There are very few Westerners who will. How do the Tibetans practice? First they memorize the text, with having absolutely no understanding whatsoever of what they’re reciting. The benefit of that is that you remember the words, because you have memorized just sounds; and if you memorize sounds, it’s like remembering a song. You remember the tune of the song. You might not remember the words, but the tune – it’s just what sounds right. And so they memorize these things as children, having no understanding of what they’re doing or of the meaning. Mind you, it’s in a classical language, not the spoken language. So they don’t understand it. But it becomes automatic. They can just recite it. And they will recite it correctly because it sounds right. Then, later on, they can add meaning to it.

We don’t do that. For us, we’re struggling trying to pronounce this Tibetan. And we’re not memorizing it. We’re not starting as children, either, when it’s easy to memorize meaningless sounds. So I find that much more important is the meaning. And just to get a general mental picture of the visualization and not worry so much about the details. The more details we can keep in mind, of course, the better. But that comes gradually, gradually, gradually, with more and more concentration. But the fundamentals, I find, are the most important – what I was referring to as the preparation, the preliminary practices.

When you have a Tibetan lama here and you’re gathering together and doing ritual practices together, then obviously you do it in accordance with his instructions. But I think it’s also important to discuss with him if you find it very difficult and not so helpful, what you’re doing, to explain to him what your problem is. And also explain that you’re not Tibetans, and you’re not in a monastery which you joined as eight-year-old children. There’s a lot of cultural difference between Tibetans who were raised in monasteries – whether in India, or Ladakh, or Tibet – and we in the West. (And, in each country in the West, it’s different; our experience is different.) We need to understand each other’s cultures in order to not have misunderstanding. That’s very important.

As for reciting things out loud: Traditionally, everybody recites things out loud. It is intended to train our speech. And so, if we want to do things properly, you do do them out loud. Out loud doesn’t mean necessarily screaming it out loud, the way that Tibetan children in the monasteries do in order to stay awake while they memorize things, and so they scream everything at the top of their voice. Also it helps you to develop concentration, because so much noise is going on around you, you have concentrate in order to do what you’re doing.

When doing mantras, for example, there are many styles of doing mantras, but usually they say just move your lips and have the breath pass through your lips, so you are mouthing the sounds so that only you can hear it. Again, I think it depends on the individual. There are practices called mental recitation and verbal recitation. I think a lot depends on how you find your energy. One of the things that happens, I think, just automatically through Dharma practice, through these various practices, even if you’re not working with the energy systems, is that you become more sensitive to your energy. You can tell when the energy is too tight or too loose; when you start to get nervous, the energy is not flowing properly. That, I think, comes from just sitting, sitting practice.

If I look at myself – personally, I don’t do my practices out loud. I do them all in my head. I find when I do things out loud, then it upsets my energy. I have asthma; I have difficulty with my breath. If I have to have too much breath going out with these recitations, I then have difficulty breathing. So I do them in my head. So that’s an example – not that everybody should do it in their heads, but that you modify the way you practice in accordance with the reality of your situation. I remember during the communist days one friend of mine, who was living in one of the Eastern European countries under Soviet occupation, lived in one tiny little room with her mother and the mother’s loud radio and television. And the mother would completely be upset if she did any meditation practice. She did all her practice silently on the toilet, because that was the only place where she could do it. So you adapt to the circumstances, to the situation. Dharma practice requires flexibility – not to be rigid and insist that it has to be like this, and if I don’t have my incense, and if I don’t have my bell and drum, I can’t practice. That’s absurd.